Thoughts on Putin and Trump’s meeting in Helsinki– A Contrarian Point of View

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Some people may view this topic too incendiary to write about—I get it. Yet, it is an important issue—especially when we consider the high stakes that are at risk. My point of view is contrarian. Consider me a contrarian life-long Democrat who values truth and integrity above politics.

Admittedly, President Trump can be a lightning rod when it comes to some of the things that he says off the cuff. Yet, he has been surprisingly effective in the international arena. By “arena,” the images of the Roman Coliseum comes to mind. I thought President Obama or Bush had his detractors, but President Donald Trump is in a league of his own.

With this thought in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, who in his own way, is every bit as complicated as our President.

Before Trump met with Putin, I could hear the naysayers say that having a summit with Putin was a bad idea. What could Trump gain from such a meeting? If he publicly confronts Putin about the Russians interfering in the American elections, then it is quite possible the critics of Trump would construe such a remark as an admission that he did not legitimately “win the election.” Conversely, if Trump did not publicly address the problem, then his critics would view him as weak—or worse argue that Trump is a puppet of Putin.

It reminds me of an old story—one, in fact, that is relevant to the holiday of Tisha’ b’Av

  • In Roman times, a Jew once walked in front of Emperor Hadrian and greeted him. The King asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” Hadrian exclaimed, “How dare a Jew to pass in front of Hadrian and greet him?” and he ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” Another Jew passed and, seeing what happened to the first man, did not greet him. Hadrian asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “A Jew.”
  • He exclaimed, “How dare a Jew pass in front of Hadrian without giving a greeting?” and again ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” His senators said, “We cannot understand your actions. He who greeted you was put to death, and he who did not greet you was put to death!”
  • Hadrian replied, “How dare you advise me on how I should execute those I hate?” And the Holy Spirit kept crying out, “You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their malice, all their plots against me.” (Lam. 3:59-60).[1]

If you substitute “Democratic Party” (or even certain members of the Republican Party), and change “Jew” to “Trump,” you have an almost perfect parallel to the midrashic story mentioned above.

Arguably, Trump’s greatest criticisms come from two major groups: (1)  Those who hate Trump and who will criticize the President for anything he does. (2). Those few in the military and intelligence communities who are wholly bought and owned by the war industries, for it is in their financial interests to have the US and Russia armed to the teeth and at each other’s throats. Eisenhower warned us about the excesses of the American military complex.

One of the more objective Republican critics of President Trump is Rand Paul, whose fierce independence as a thinker and as a leader has challenged the President on numerous occasions in the past. He is sometimes known as the “the Republican who saved ObamaCare.” In an article he wrote for the Washington Post, his remarks on the Trump-Putin meeting impressed me as clear-headed and thought-provoking. Paul was supportive of both these men meeting. Paul further pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s legion of critics are motivated by a mutual animus they have for him. Comically, he even referred to the enemies of Trump as suffering from “a bit of Trump derangement syndrome.”

Now that was truly funny!

When Paul was asked by Blitzer “Who do you trust [on election meddling], the American intelligence community . . . or Putin?” Paul gave an interesting diplomatic answer, ““What I would say is that all power needs to have checks and balances, and I think our intelligence community has way too much power.”[2] . (This interview happened before Trump claimed Tuesday that he misspoke when he gave Putin the benefit of the doubt).” It is a pity Trump did not have Rand Paul coaching him. If I were him, I’d bring him along next time he meets with Putin.

Paul agrees with Trump that engaging pariah global powers is more productive than punishing them. This writer agrees with this objective. Shaming a world leader is a very dangerous thing to do—especially when it is guaranteed to escalate tensions and make a potential adversary. more hostile.

The world has become a very dangerous place over the last thirty years or more. The Iranian presence in Syria is so serious; a war between Israel and Iran is almost inevitable. The two most powerful leaders of the world have within their ability to take control of this dangerous situation.

The proliferation of nuclear technology is another serious problem that can engulf Western Civilization with destruction. Once again, the two leaders of the most powerful nuclear nations must establish a dialogue and address these issues. Remarkably, Trump’s diplomacy with China and North Korea has the potential of yielding positive fruit. Whether you hate Trump or not, at least give him credit for being innovative and bold—whereas leaders in the past, beginning with Clinton, Bush, and Obama and their underlings only appeased the North Korean dictators.

Give Trump credit for decimating the ranks of ISIS, who proved they are a presence that must be utterly defeated for world peace.

One of the most memorable lines Trump expressed—one that really ought to command our respect, “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than risk peace in pursuit of politics.” Once again, this statement comes from a man whose vision may help pave the way for a safer world for all of us to co-inhabit.

As my good Internet Indian friend, Imitz Mohummad, wrote to me, “These jerks want Trump to punch Putin in the nose and start a nuclear war with the other major nuclear force on Earth. I’m a patriot and a believer in a powerful America. I have also witnessed the body bags filled with the fruit of American youth when fat old saber rattlers play soldier. Trump was masterful in Helsinki. The Swamp Donkeys may scream but tonight the world is better off that these two men shook hands!”

Amen!

Postscript:

One of the most interesting remarks regarding the Russian meddling came from Putin who floated an offer for members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to “come and work” with Russian investigators and interrogate those individuals, whom Mueller recently indicted.  During the Monday press conference, Putin said Russia would allow the special counsel to “send an official request” to the Kremlin to question the 12 Russian intelligence officers who had been charged by Mueller with crimes related to election meddling just three days earlier. Moreover, there is an extradition policy that both the US and Russia have agreed to.

Trump’s reaction was cute, Putin “offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Indeed it is.

But this is assuming that Mueller or his team take Putin up on his offer. I doubt it, much like the Roman senators could not persuade Hadrian to let go of his animus toward the Jews.

Lastly, and Putin also made an interesting counter-argument that should not be ignored. Putin accused U.S. officials of committing crimes against Russia and said his government would want to question them in return. Specifically, he mentioned an investor named Bill Browder, a  former high-level investor in Russia who has become one of Putin’s most oft-cited enemies for his role in lobbying for the U.S. sanctions bill known as the Magnitsky Act.

Putin countered that Browder’s associates sent $400 million in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.[3]

As always, follow the money trail. Corruption in American politics is a problem no honest American can ignore. Perhaps the inescapable moral comes from the famous proverb, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Do not criticize others if you have similar weaknesses yourself. None of us can afford the sin of self-righteousness.

[1] Lamentations Rabba 3:60,

[2] I would only like to add that the subject of election meddling by the Russians is a topic I would love to address at another time. Simply stated, strong nations do this when it affects a country’s political interest to do so. The Obama administration interfered in the Ukraine elections, which led to Russia’s predictable takeover of the area which holds Russia’s major naval base and sea outlet. The Obama administration interfered in the election of Israel. Lastly, The alleged Russian interference that occurred during the Obama administration did not elicit any criticism from our Commander in Chief, President Obama. The United States, like Russia, has a long history of interfering with elections elsewhere around the globe. See Ishaan Tharoor’s informative article on this subject in the Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/13/the-long-history-of-the-u-s-interfering-with-elections-elsewhere/?utm_term=.00572c6d89da.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via Michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com 

 

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/16/putin-asked-special-counsel-to-come-and-work-with-russia-trump-says.html

Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

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The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

Two Kings Cannot Wear the Same Crown

 

Many people, including myself, have often wondered about the Russian strategy in Syria, now that the war is for the most part over.

We all know that Assad is no boy scout; we also know that the ISIS fighters, who swelled the ranks of the rebels—are genocidal maniacs driven by an evil vision of Jihad. Such people do not merely kill, they kill with chemical weapons, they burn people alive, crucify non-Muslim children, feed their kids to their captured parents—the list of atrocities almost makes Assad look like a human being.

It reminds me of the old story—perhaps you heard of it.

Once an outlaw lost his brother who died after trying to rob a bank in a gunfight. The outlaw’s surviving brother tells a minister, “You had better say some nice things about my brother, or else I’ll kill ya!” The minister asked, “What should I say about him?” The outlaw said, “Make him sound like a saint!” At the funeral, the minister said, “Clive was a bank-robber, a cattle-rustler, a rapist, a thief, a murderer—he was someone who would even steal candy from a baby. But, compared to his brother, Clive was a saint!”

While Assad has plenty of blood on his hands, his relationship with Israel has for the most part been relatively good. Israel prefers Assad to the leaders of ISIS or other Muslim fanatics. There are many Red-Army veterans living in Israel (see the picture)–in fact many Russians citizens.

The moral of the story is simply this: the devil you know is better than the one who is worse.  The fact that the Russians are in Syria is not necessarily a bad thing. Putin can bring considerable stability in Syria—maybe in time even put in someone who is better than Assad.

But what about the Iranians? Assad had no problem using Hezbollah and the Iranian military to help defeat the rebels. But Hezbollah’s motivation had little to do with their love of Assad or the Russians. Their ambitions are much more regional-minded. Sure, they hope to use Syria as a platform to attack Israel, but they also wish to surround the Saudis in their effort to take over Muslim holy sites—especially the city of Mecca, the Crown-Jewels of the Muslim world.

Iran’s bellicose ambitions are hardly subtle. Their tolerance for the Russians—a temporary inconvenience.

Israel, as you know, will not let Iran realize their ambitions. Already, the Israelis have destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian weaponry. Have you notice that the Russians, for the most part, have been relatively silent. Netanyahu has, from what it appears, a reasonably good relationship with Putin.

Of course, appearances are deceptive—, especially in the Middle East.

However, Putin does not want to see an Iranian-Israeli war in Syria. It simply is not in Russia’s interest. And the reason for this is because of a political principle that the Midrash has long taught: “Two kings cannot share the same crown.”

It’s sort of like, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

And that is the situation brewing in Syria today between the Iranians and the Russians. Just last night, Putin made the statement, “Foreign troops—including Iran and Hezbollah should depart Syria when the civil war ends.”

Of course, he might have included the Turkish troops, for as Erdogan is really the “third king” of our Midrash, whose ambition is to reestablish the Ottoman Empire.

Put in different terms, “Three kings cannot share the same crown.”

And how did the Iranians take Putin’s remark? The Islamic Republic responds, “no one can force Iran to do anything. Those who should leave Syria are the ones who entered it without consent. We will remain and keep supporting Syria so long as it needs our help,” he added, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.

And with this revelation—something that I have personally observed for months—it ought to be clear that the Putin is prepared to give Netanyahu free reign to get rid of the Iranians as an occupying power.

Eventually, though, the political entropy between the Russians and the Iranians will manifest itself—sort of like spurned lovers.

As far as Assad goes, the Russians had better guard him closely, for eventually, the Iranians will try to replace him with a person of their own choosing.

I am betting the Russians and the Israelis will send the Iranians packing–especially as President keeps the pressure on the Iranians, who are rapidly becoming the pariah everyone hates.

 

 

You Shall not Covet: Getting Caught Within the Web of Desire Part 2

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(Picture: Nathan the Prophet confronts King David’s theft of Bathsheba)

The covetous road often entangles numerous other prohibition in its web. Below is a famous medieval parable about the dangers of coveting, and how the covetous person may ultimately get much more than he originally bargained.

On Shabbat eve, he went and broke down a thin wall between them, thus transgressing “Remember and observe the Sabbath.” As if that weren’t enough, he then rapes the woman whom he lusted after, and in the process, he violated the proscriptions of “Do not covet,’ and “Do not commit adultery.”

Alas, his appetite for the forbidden knew no bounds. After having his way with his neighbor’s wife, he helps himself to the family jewels.  The woman cried out, “Is there no end to your base character?” To silence her, the sinful man murders her, thus violating the law, “You shall not murder.”

After breaking a medley of biblical precepts found in the Ten Commandments, the man’s parents castigated him. And in defiance, the sinful son struck his parents, thus violating the precept commanding him to “Honor your father and mother.”

When he was arrested, he was taken to court and he cleverly testifies falsely with the help of his friends, that he had taken only his own property (i.e., also known as “The O.J. Simpson Defense”). He claimed that everything he took, was really his. Until now, he could not reclaim his property. However, once the robbers had broken the wall and killed his wife,  the opportunity was ripe for him to collect his property. Such a person has also transgressed, “Do not testify falsely.”

And kept on denying the accusations, one after the other. In doing so, he also transgressed “Do not swear falsely.” But in the end, his evil was revealed and his offense publicized. His shame was so great that he gave himself up to corruption and denied the Living God, thus transgressing “I am the LORD your God.” Finally, he became addicted to idol worship and bowed down to and served idols, thus transgressing “Do not have any other Gods beside me” and “Do not bow down to them and do not serve them.” And all this was caused by coveting. We see, then, that he who is covetous is close to transgressing the entire Torah. [1]

And now you know the rest of the story . . .

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Notes:

[1] Orchot HaTsadikim, Chapter 14: The Gate of Jealousy.

You Shall not Covet: Is it Possible to Legislate a Feeling? Part 1.

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From Maimonides’ description, it is clear that the man who covets is someone who has an unhealthy soul and may not realize it. By being unconscious of this problem, his behavior embarks on a path of self-destruction and moral ruin. Based on this reading of Maimonides, it becomes clear the role of Nathan the Prophet played in confronting King David for his illicit affair with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). From a purely Maimonidean perspective, Nathan acted as a physician of the soul for David by prescribing him a regimen for David’s complete moral and spiritual rehabilitation. It is always intriguing to see how Maimonides’ exposition of coveting compares with other famous Judaic thinkers of history. Some of these scholars also examined the psychological component in the negative imperative “You shall not covet.” Yet, it is strange Maimonides did not illustrate his point by mentioning this famous biblical story!

Abraham Ibn Ezra: Now I shall present a parable: Know that a peasant who is of sound mind, and who sees a princess who is beautiful, will not covet her in his heart, to lie with her, for he knows that it is impossible. Do not consider this peasant to be like a lunatic, who would desire wings to fly to heaven, even though it is impossible. Likewise, a person does not desire to lie with his mother, although she may be beautiful, for he has been accustomed since his youth to know that she is forbidden to him.

In the same way, an intelligent person must know that he will not find a beautiful woman or wealth because of his wisdom or knowledge, but only if God allows it to him… and therefore an intelligent person does not desire it or covet it. When he knows that God has forbidden his neighbor’s wife to him, then she is more elevated in his eyes than the princess in the eyes of the peasant. Therefore, he is satisfied with his portion and does not allow his heart to covet and desire something that is not his, for he knows that God does not wish to give it to him; he cannot take it by force or by his thoughts or schemes. He has faith in his Creator, that He will provide for him and do what is good in His eyes.”[1]

Philo of Alexandria: While Philo‘s explanation is similar to Maimonides, but he expands much further on the proscription’s psychological aspects:

This commandment aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this proscription. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[2]

The law here aims to curtail desire, the fountain of all iniquity, which from it flows all the most serious offenses—whether of individuals or of states; whether important or trivial; whether they relate to one’s life and soul; or whether the coveting pertains just to external objects. Like fire consuming wood, desire expands, consuming, destroying everything that is in its path. Indeed, many other subordinate sins subsumed under this restriction. These laws exist in order to correct those persons who are receptive to improvement; these other laws also serve to chastise those stubborn people who dedicate their entire lives to the indulgence of passion.[3]



[1] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 20:17.

[2] The Decalogue 173-174.

[3] The Decalogue 173-174.

From Medieval Book Burning to Modern Internet Censorship

Image result for book burning pictures medieval              Image result for book burning pictures medieval

 Information is the currency of democracy. —Thomas Jefferson

When I was a young sixteen-year-old, I remember becoming involved in the Chabad movement in Los Angelos, CA. I remember purchasing a translation of Judah Halevi’s classic theological work, “The Kuzari” that was translated by the early 20th-centuryOriental scholar Hartwig Hirschfeld. When an Orthodox rabbi looked over the book, he declared it, “heresy”, and ordered me to burn my newly purchased book. At the time, I protested and asked, “Could I merely pull out the Introduction and burn that section, but keep the book?” He said that would be fine.

For many years, I felt ashamed of my behavior. Several decades later I decided to use this personal anecdote as a teachable lesson. Often, I have long since pointed out to my students, burning ideas is a cowardly approach to dealing with personal insecurities about faith, as Freud observed long ago in his book, The Future of an Illusion. The only way to defeat ideas you don’t like is to come up with better and more convincing ideas and solutions.

The historian Norman Bentwich (1883-1971) wrote, “Philosophers tend to be viewed with suspicion by a large part of the community. Philosophers, by the very excellence of their thought, have in all races towered above the comprehension of the people, and have often aroused the suspicion of the religious teachers.” [1]

Bentwich makes a valid point. In the history of Judaism over the last 1900 years, Talmudists often viewed Jewish philosophers with a measure of mistrust, accusing them of harboring beliefs that were too dangerous for the masses. Throughout much of the yeshiva world, from the 18th century to the 21st century, no rabbinic student dared pick up the Guide to study—at least during the daytime, but you could see students huddled in their rooms, or sometimes even under a table reading the Guide clandestinely.

Maimonides’ philosophical ideas met considerable resistance in his day, and in the year 1233, not long after his death, Jewish leaders solicited the Dominican inquisitors and claimed Maimonides’ “heretical” teachings threatened to undermine all faiths. As one might expect, they burnt Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed at Montpellier, in southern France.

But a change of heart even amongst Maimonides’ greatest critics occurred once they realized they inadvertently made themselves vulnerable to future Dominican incursions. Within almost a decade, Pope Gregory IX led a campaign to burn other books held sacred by Jews, such as the Talmud. In the year 1242, the Catholic clergy collected twenty-four wagons of the Talmud, which they burnt in Rome. Thus, a dangerous precedent became established.

This condemnation was all the more ironic, considering how the Dominican theologians Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) each appropriated many ideas from Maimonides.[2] In the Summa, Aquinas quotes R. Moses twenty-four times, always reverently referring to him as, “Rabbi Moses.”  Aquinas, in particular, was an Italian Dominican priest and Doctor of the Church.

After Aquinas’ death, William of Ockham (1285-1321) and John Duns Scotus attempted to ban Thomas’ works as dangerous to the Church. Yet, the quest for a pure and acceptable theology did not end with William of Ockham’s condemnation of Aquinas, for in 1324, the Catholic Church later condemned some of Ockham’s works as containing heretical ideas,[3] thus proving that Bentwich’s point was correct, as mentioned above.

Back to the Present

You may ask: Is this relevant? It definitely is! The above historical discussion about censorship proved to be one of many indictments for the medieval Church and rabbis who engaged in that kind of intellectual internecine warfare against their faith’s freethinkers and other intrepid intellectual explorers. But nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, it is all the atrocious for Facebook and Twitter to engage in blocking political content of ideas its leaders and engineers find “offensive.”

Today, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released a surprise but damning report on Thursday that shows Twitter employees admitting they censor people’s’ right-leaning accounts, including banning them from the network because they do not agree with their political views! Had this happened in Russia, Iran, or China, none of us would be surprised—but in the 21st century United States? This is truly an affront to our society!

One Twitter employee named Pranay Singh, admitted that the majority of their algorithms are geared in such a manner that they target people with certain political views. Their method is insidious, they “shadow ban” right-leaning accounts, which essentially bans them from the platform without letting them know that they have been banned while allowing left-leaning accounts to slip through without the same scrutiny.” And they unabashedly admit:

  • “Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck,” Singh explained. “Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.” “I would say majority of it are for Republicans,” he confirmed. [4]

Many friends of mine on Facebook often get in the Facebook jail for asserting political views that the Facebook leadership does not like or approve. Let us hope that a class action suit is initiated. This is a battle that anyone along the political spectrum ought to agree upon. The Left would not like it if the political right behaved this way. Ideas deserve to be heard and debated in the public forum.



[1] Norman Bentwich, Philo of Alexandria (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1910), p. 7.

[2] See Jeremiah M. Hackett (ed.), A Companion to Meister Eckhart: Brill’s Companions to the  Christian Tradition (Boston: Brill, 2013).

[3] Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), p. 350.

[4] https://www.projectveritas.com/video/hidden-camera-twitter-engineers-to-ban-a-way-of-talking-through-shadow-banning/

 

 

Reflections on the Iranian Uprising in 2018: The Silence of Liberals and Feminists

 

Image result for women hijab pictures protest Iran

Most of us are aware that the Islamic leaders of Iran have blocked all forms of social media, yet images continue to flow across the Muslim Curtain of Iran. By far the boldest symbol of the people’s revolt are the images of Iranian women taking off their hijabs, staring silently and defiantly. These brave women risk getting tortured and beaten by Iran’s Phallicratic State—while Western feminism reveals the depth of their apathy and indifference to their sisters who are fighting for the same human rights they enjoy in the West.

Yet, the silence has been deafening.

Instead of promoting war against other nations, in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, the Iranian government must invest in its people. “Death to the Ayatollah! Death to Hezbollah—music to Israel’s ears.

The European Union has been dead silent; Canada has been silent. Most liberals in our county has been silent. Facebook and Twitter have no unfrozen the accounts shut down by the Mullahs. Their silence is complicity.

Most interestingly, the Obama cabinet—including Obama himself has been dead silent. Their silence reminds me of 2009, the time of the first Green Revolution that was spurred on because of obvious election fraud. I remember thinking that this development posed the first major international test for the newbie President elect. I wanted to see whether he was capable of rising to the defense of the oppressed marching in the streets of Tehran.

And the reaction was that of complete silence. Yes, we walked down that road before. A real statesman who believed in freedom and democracy would have done so much more—our ambassador to the U.N., said and did nothing. The rest of the world followed in goosestep. The Iranian Secret Police took lots of names, arrested, tortured, and murdered thousands of the dissidents, as President Obama attempted to rehabilitate Iran’s international image to the Western world.

On Jan. 16th, 1979, Jimmy Carter acted no differently, as he paved the way for the Ayatollah Khomeini to seize the reigns of power. One would be hard pressed to find another example of ineptitude of American foreign policy until the dynamic duo of Barak Obama and John Kerry in 2016. The Iranian mullahs made their intentions known, as our presidents—Democrat and Republican alike—adopted a supine position, or more precisely, the traditional Muslim position of submission.

The Italian journalist Oriana Falachi, in her autobiography met with the Ayatollah Khomeini, and she had her lovely nails polished in red just the other day as she prepared for the famous meeting. The aid to the Ayatollah warned her, if she did not remove the polish from her fingers, the Ayatollah would have her fingers chopped—yes, I said, “chopped” off for being so immodestly dressed. This was a dreadful experience she never forgot. Ayatollah Khomeini was known to have his thugs cut off women’s breasts in his country if they wore a low-cut blouse.

Within hardly a wink of an eye, Khomeini moved swiftly to impose sharia. In March 1979, the new government issued a decree mandating that women must wear the hijab whenever they ventured outside, on pain of arrest. This was not without a harsh reaction. On March 8 that year, over 100,000 women, took to the streets of Iran to protest against this — to no avail, of course. The hijab became the most visible symbol of the totalitarian sharia backwater that the Islamic Republic of Iran became.

Yet, in our great country, the politicians and outside lobbyists did their best to make the hijab a thing of beauty. Now, in 2016, I am proud that my President and his cabinet are doing their best to cheer and support the Iranian women. Nikey Haley’s speech in the United Nations,

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley praised Iranian protesters Tuesday, adding that the US is seeking emergency meetings with the Security Council in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva regarding Iran.

·         “The people of Iran are crying out for freedom,” Haley said. “All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.”

 ·         “This is the precise picture of a long oppressed people rising up against their dictators. The international community has a role to play on this. The freedoms that are enshrined in the United Nations charter are under attack in Iran,” she said. “If the Iranian dictatorships history is any guide, we can expect more outrageous abuses in the days to come. The UN must speak out.”

Haley continued: “We must not be silent. The people are crying out for freedom. All freedom loving people must stand with their cause. The international community made the mistake of failing to do that in 2009. We must not make that mistake again.”

I am so proud of how Israelis are offering their moral support on the Internet.

I suspect that Obama is afraid to speak out on behalf of the people, because he went out of his way to praise the current Iranian regime when he concluded his nuclear-arms agreement with Iran, as the Iranians mused how spineless the United States had become.

Whether you like Trump or not, history will remember him well for standing up to the rogue state and for its oppressed people.

Trump and Jerusalem

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Don’t worry about Trump’s motives. His actions count

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel 

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — The theme of brotherhood is central to the entire Book of Genesis. On Shabbat we chant the words, “Hinei ma tov uma na’im, shevet achim gam yachad.” (“Look how good and pleasurable it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

Yet Genesis did not begin that way. The Cain and Abel story embodies the story of Western Civilization in a nutshell. “Am I supposed to be my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s defiant question does not merit a response from God because the answer is all too obvious.

Ironically, it is the worship of God that leads to the first fratricide. What was true then is no less true today as fanatics threaten Israel today—especially since Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Once a dying king said to his two sons: “Get on your horses and travel to Jerusalem. The one whose horse arrives last will inherit my kingdom.” So off they went. Due to their love for one another, the brothers stopped at the outskirts of Jerusalem; neither one wanted to win at the expense of the other. So what did they do? They rode together on one horse! This story ought to serve as an inspiration for today.

Unfortunately, the wisdom of the past fails to inspire us as it should.

Some of my congregants wondered whether Trump was “playing the Jewish and Evangelical card” for the 2020 election. When King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, did he act out of the sincerity of his heart? Or did he act out of political considerations? In any event, God called Cyrus, “My shepherd” for God utilized a weak human being to serve a divine resolve. In fact, biblical theology always shows how God utilizes weak mortals to serve His purpose—perhaps even someone like President Trump!

Who cares about motives?  It’s the actions that count!

The Catholic Church along with the Protestants have long taught their followers to say to the Jew, the Latin insult “Hep! Hep!” an acronym for the words, “Hierosolyma est perdita,” ‘”Jerusalem is lost.” Historically, the Vatican moved to improve relations with Jews in 1965; and, eventually, the Vatican formally recognized Israel in 1993. By 1998, the Vatican issued an apology for the Catholic failure to do more for the Jewish people during the Holocaust. But Jerusalem is another matter—since the days of the Early Church Fathers, the Catholic Church believed that the Jew is condemned to wander the world; bereft of their ancestral home, bereft of their ancient Temple, bereft of their city of Jerusalem. I think David Ben-Gurion said it best: “The Catholic Church has a 2,000 years old reckoning with the Jews. The Vatican doesn’t want Israel to rule. There is a dogma (replacement theology, ed.) which has existed for 1,800 years and we gave it the coup de grace by establishing the State of Israel.”

Islamic armies have often tried to change the narrative of peoples they have conquered. The history of Jerusalem as the spiritual epicenter of Jewish life; Israel has always honored all faiths to worship in the spirit of brotherhood in Jerusalem. The Muslim intolerance toward the Coptic Christians, the Zoroastrians, the Armenians, the native African faiths, Yazidis, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucians tells an altogether opposite story.

In the spirit of fellowship, there is no reason why the Arab quarter of East Jerusalem may not serve as a future capital for a peaceful Palestinian state—for peace is only possible if there is mutual respect for the Other.

Let us not forget that over a year ago, one of President Obama’s most unfortunate legacies was his decision to change American policy by supporting the United Nations Security Council resolution declaring Judaism’s holiest places in Jerusalem to be occupied territory and a “flagrant violation under international law.” He did so because of his personal animus of the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This strident decision ignored the fact, as Allan Dershowitz observed, “Before June 4, 1967, Jews were forbidden from praying at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. They were forbidden to attend classes at the Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus, which had been opened in 1925 and was supported by Albert Einstein. Jews could not seek medical care at the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus, which had treated Jews and Arabs alike since 1918. Jews could not live in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, where their forbearers had built homes and synagogues for thousands of years.”

Thank God, President Trump has corrected the record.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

A Tale of Two Perspectives

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4 days ago

It is one thing to hear people pray in a Mosque saying “Allahu akbar” in unison, for we all have our unique way of expressing prayer.

However, when you hear somebody on a jet that is flying 40,000 feet in the air screaming to the top of his lungs, “Allahu akbar!”, what is your reaction? What is your heart and mind telling you? If you’re like any normal human being, you are most likely experiencing a sense of terror; you fear that your life might be ending within the next couple of minutes or seconds, as your life flashes before you.  I can guarantee you the last thing you are worried about is whether feeling this way might get you  labeled as “Islamophobic” or a “racist” despite the fact that Islam has nothing to do with race.

Once again, another Muslim terrorist named Sayfullo Saipov, proudly screeched, “Allahu akbar!” after running down some twenty people, killing eight people. One outspoken Muslim imam named Omar Suleiman has successfully persuaded Google to bury anything that is remotely, “anti-Islam.” He complained on CNN how the media perceives “Allahu akbar!” serves what he called, “a nefarious agenda.” Once again, instead of identifying with the victims of the terror attack, Suleiman and his ilk seem as though are trying to get us to identify with the perpetrator.

George Orwell referred to this kind of logic as “doublespeak.”

Frankly, if I were a true Muslim, I would be outraged—but not by those who are complaining about Muslim violence and deviance. Instead I would redirect my rage toward my fellow Muslims who are through their fanaticism single-handedly destroying their religion. They are the ones who have created this problem in perception. It’s time the civilized world of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and responsible Muslims take a different approach and unequivocally condemn religious inspired violence.

It is disturbing that organizations such as CAIR and other Islamic affiliates seldom organize large 100,000-person rallies condemning the kind of violence that is perpetuated by its apostles of hate. Such gatherings now and then occur in Europe, but not in this country. Islamic apologists created a new word, “Islamophobia” as a means of suppressing any kind of criticism toward Islam as a religion. It may seem strange, we do not ever hear of someone being “Judeao-phobic” or “Christian-phobic” because being afraid of Judaism or Christianity doesn’t really make any sense. Being afraid of Islam (which is what Islamophobia suggests) has nothing to do with being afraid of Muslims. I think the Muslim propagandists should have come up with a better term. Criticizing any religion is not a crime in a country that champions free speech.

People often attribute the following remark to the atheist philosopher Christopher Hitchens, who allegedly said, “The word Islamophobia is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” Actually, it was the brilliant physicist Richard Dawkins who made this remark. While I would not use the same caustic language Hawkins uses, I do agree the term “Islamophobia” is a contrived linguistic weapon to suppress honest dialogue about how people feel about Islam as a religion. Islamophobia means “the fear of Islam,” and not the fear of Muslims.

Christopher Hitchens described Islamophobia in the following terms:

  • “A phobic is a person suffering from irrational or uncontrollable dread. I don’t choose to regard my own apprehensiveness about Muslim violence as groundless or illusory” “Fundamentals,” Tablet Magazine 5/24/10
  • “This is why the fake term Islamophobia is so dangerous: It insinuates that any reservations about Islam must ipso facto be phobic. A phobia is an irrational fear or dislike. Islamic preaching very often manifests precisely this feature, which is why suspicion of it is by no means irrational.” “A Test of Tolerance,”[1] Slate 8/23/10

Think about it.

Criticism of religion should not equated with hatred; nor should people who criticize ANY religion be tarred and feathered, or shamed for expressing their concerns about militant behavior of certain Muslims who promote violence in the name of the Quran. Nor does criticizing Islam make one into a racist.

Whatever you wish to call it, it is a term designed to suppress criticism of Islam. Whether you are a rabbi, priest, a Zen Roshi, a Catholic priest or a Protestant minister, you have every right to criticize your religion of origin for the problems pertaining to it as a faith. In ancient times, the prophets pulled no punches on criticizing the Judaism of their times and the way it was practiced. Quite the opposite. Judaism benefited from the prophetic critique.

Islam can also benefit from an honest critique of its doctrines, its holy books, and the way people practice their faith. Islam is not the exception, but it can be a great example if its followers pursue this fearless path of moral integrity. Let us pray that responsible imams take this criticism not as a sign of hatred or intolerance, but as an invitation to examine and discuss a topic that demands an ethical response.

In my next column, I will discuss the overuse of “anti-Semitism” to add further balance to the topic I have raised about religious labels.

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2010/08/a_test_of_tolerance.html

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader at Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Novel ideas needed for Simchat Torah

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Simchat Torah is a relatively new holiday. Nowhere is it mentioned in the Talmud; nor is it mentioned in Maimonides or the Tur Shulchan Aruch. But it is explicitly mentioned in the Zohar,[1] a work that dates back to about 1270—although it is a holiday that probably began many centuries earlier when the Babylonian and Palestinian communities finished reading their Torah cycles. Undoubtedly, just as the conclusion of Talmudic tractate always served as a festive occasion—it is a certainty Jews rejoiced in deed whenever their communities finished reading the Torah.[2]

And now for my story . . .

One of my Modern Orthodox colleagues, who works as a day-school teacher  in New York, surprised many of us with a candid remark about his experience of Simchat Torah. He confessed that he struggled with the holiday more so than any of the other High Holidays of the year. He felt that its celebration felt “mailed in and tired.”

Interestingly enough, several other Orthodox friends chimed in and expressed similar thoughts. Some complained about the length of the service. Some people felt they preferred making their own “personal” Simchat Torah concluding a Talmudic tractate or section of the Mishnah. Others thought the synagogues lengthen the Hakafot beyond the realm of sensibility.

As I thought about this discussion, I realized that many people may feel simply overwhelmed with the plethora of holidays we celebrate this time of the year. In other words, people’s ambivalence may in fact reflect tiredness.

Here at Chula Vista’s Temple Beth Shalom, most of our growing congregation is made up of Spanish members who have re-embraced Judaism over the last several years. I often like to tell them about how marvelous their spiritual journey has been for them. Despite several centuries of efforts to forcibly convert the Spanish Jews to Christianity, the Church failed. The fact they are here among us is proof positive that the Jewish spark of their ancestral identities could not ever be destroyed. So it remained dormant—but on one unexpected day, something awoke from within them.

Reclaiming the “lost children” of Latin American countries can help revitalize any Jewish community that is willing to welcome them back. One of my favorite newly minted Spanish Jews went with his friend to a Chabad store on Fairfax Ave. The rabbi had no problem asking the Jewish woman to say a blessing over the lulav, but when her Spanish friend asked to say the blessing, the rabbi looked at this dark-skinned Spanish looking Jew in total disbelief. “Are YOU Jewish?” he asked. “Yes I am,” and he took the lulav and etrog and said the appropriate blessing—while the Rabbi looked astonished.

It is high time we welcome back our Spanish Jews. We are the “Jewish people” and not “The Jewish Club.” It is time to welcome back all the lost Jewish tribes. That is debt we owe to our ancestors. We can do no less.

At our shul on Simchat Torah night, you could see all the Spanish Jewish men and women lost in a state of ecstasy, as they danced with the Torah. Since we have trouble getting a Minyan on the second day of Yom Tov, I instituted that we finish the Torah on Simchat Torah night; everyone celebrated with clapping and dancing, as we danced throughout the synagogues with our Torah scrolls, and on the sidewalk facing the shul for the whole world to see.

This modern custom actually dates back to the time when Russian Jews lived under the yoke of Soviet tyranny. The Russian government allowed Jews to affirm their Jewish identity by letting them dance in the streets. Elie Wiesel once commented that he was deeply amazed by the joy these Jews exhibited whenever he visited Moscow when he joined them in their celebration of Simchat Torah.[3]

For obvious reasons, this was something all the Spanish Jews of TBS could easily relate to; and so too, they all danced.

Even on Shabbat, at the end of the Torah reading, we took out all the Torah scrolls so that everyone who could not make it to the Shul on Simchat Torah could dance on Shabbat Bereishit—the first new parsha of the year. I explained that Shabbat absorbs the holiness of all the other days of the week, and that the lesson of Simchat Torah reminds us that everyone needs to celebrate the study of the Torah not only once a year—but throughout the year as well.

As rabbis, we need to think more imaginatively of how we can make the holidays more meaningful; sometimes, thinking outside the box can go a long way in improving the spirit of this most remarkable holiday.

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[1]Zohar 1:33; Raya Mehemna  Vol. 3; Parshat Pinchas 256b; Tikunei Zohar 56a.

[2] Other rabbinic sources record the observance  of Simchat Torah in a number of communities.   The Machzor Vitri 185 (an important 11th Halakhic work) describes the observance in clear detail and it corresponds exactly to how we nowadays observe Simchat Torah. In one passage he describes how the Second Day of Shimini Atsereth was observed in the French communities. The name “Simchat Torah” came only later.

[3]Elie Wiesel, The Jews of Silence, ch. 5.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, California.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com